Thursday, April 21, 2011

Accidentally failing to cite properly

Note the opinion piece titled In justice, intention matters by CONNOR MUI in the Daily Princetonian on 21 April 2011.

One gets the gist of the piece from the first paragraph:

Princeton’s “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” states that before the Committee on Discipline, “The only adequate defense for a student accused of an academic violation is that the work in question does not, in fact, constitute a violation.” This statement is like saying that the only defense against a first-degree capital murder charge is that the victim isn’t really dead!

Intellectual property comes up in the piece:

It’s true that intellectual property is essential to the institution of academia and unattributed or improperly attributed use of sources is a serious offense. Nevertheless, to maintain a system in which the lack of intent does nothing to differentiate the type of punishment given is an injustice to the students who accidentally fail to cite properly and are therefore given the same permanent stigma of a year-long suspension as those who knowingly plagiarize.

Connor's beef is with the punishment phase. Maybe "intent" should be a factor in deciding "what to do" with the copyist. As to the fact of "copying without attribution," that's generally fairly plain on its face. You don't need to to analyze intent to determine if something was copied, without attribution. On the far side of Connor's argument is the Glenn Poshard / SIU argument, wherein copied text in a Ph.D. thesis was passed off as inadvertent plagiarism. At some point, as for example in a Ph.D. thesis, one has to take responsibility for separating one's own thoughts from what was already done.

Of news in April 2011, one does not know what intent Michigan State professor Sharif Shakrani may have had, but a reader of a piece destined to sway opinion needs to know what came from Shakrani and what came from elsewhere. Similarly, a Princeton professor needs to know what came from the student and what came from elsewhere. As between the professor and the student, one suspects the student would be in a better position to know what went into the student's paper.

Plagiarism at Princeton went through the New Jersey court system a few decades ago, and the detailed record of the case
[186 N.J. Super. 548; 453 A.2d 263 ]suggests Princeton can be quite lenient, even in a case of rather explicit, intentional, plagiarism. Refer to the previous IPBiz post Plagiarism in academic contexts: a look at the past .


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